Wednesday, June 30, 2004

A creative soccer twist for Haiti

This just in. I'll be following up on this, to see if it works!

BRASILIA (AP) - Brazil will play an exhibition soccer match at Haiti in August, with spectators invited to swap firearms for tickets, Brazilian Sports Minister Agnelo Queiroz said.

Queiroz said Tuesday that Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva will attempt to clear his agenda so he can attend the game.

Brazilian troops travelled to Haiti in May as part of a United Nations peacekeeping force. Their first act was to distribute 1,000 soccer balls to Haitian children.

Ricardo Teixeira, president of the Brazilian Soccer Federation, said he expects "the entire Brazilian team" to take part in the match, including top stars such as Ronaldo.

"We are all interested in taking part in this humanitarian gesture," Teixeira said.

Teixeira said tickets to the match will be handed out in exchange for firearms as part of an attempt to disarm rival factions in the country.

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

CDU-PDC: Clientelist practices exposed

Yesterday La Prensa Gráfica headlined a story about how the center coalition, CDU-PDC, agreed to distribute employment among party faithful in the Supreme Electoral Tribunal and the Procuraduria General de la Republica, the latter long seen as a PDC fiefdom as a result of political pacts in the Legislative Assembly. CDU magistrate in the TSE Juan José Martell tries to explain, but fails to convince this reader that this is anything other than standard operating procedure.

The reaction of other parties was, quite cynically, that of outrage. The paper mentioned that this was the first publicly documented proof of clientelistic practices that prevail in many government institutions, but most notoriously in the TSE, where the top three parties are represented in the leadership, and traditionally have divided staff positions among themselves. The TSE, which currently has ARENA, FMLN and CDU representatives as magistrates (with the other two chosen by the Supreme Court), will be replaced in July. It's unclear who will take over the third magistrate position--the CDU/PDC came in third in the presidential contest, but they along with the PCN did not get the 3% of the electorate needed to retain their legal status.

Sunday, June 27, 2004

Counterfactual of the Day

What would have ensued if the U.S. had decided to leave the Arbenz government in place?

Guatemala's moderate, capitalist land reform could have served to stabilize the country by bringing its dispossessed majority into the economy. Not only Guatemala but all of Central America might have experienced a nonviolent modernization process -- and avoided the wars of the 1980s -- if the Guatemalan example had been permitted to survive, even to spread in Central America.

-- Susanne Jonas, professor of Latin American & Latino Studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz

(On June 27, 1954, the CIA, working with a small number of Guatemalan right-wing activists, overthrew the democratically elected government of Jacobo Arbenz. Brutal repression followed for decades. And Washington sent a loud message throughout the region: Moderate change in small nations would not be tolerated if it challenged U.S. interests.)

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Why the U.S. should pay attention to Latin America

From today's New York Times, this story by Juan Forero, which provides a good overview of the challenges facing Latin America.

My favorite quote: "I believe in an authoritarian government, if it works. They do this in other countries and it works. Look at Cuba, that works. Look at Pinochet in Chile, that worked." -- Daniel Vargas, 24, a university student from Ilave, Peru, whose father was accused with six others of having orchestrated the lynching of the mayor, Fernando Cirilo Robles.

Here are a few salient points:

In the last few years, six elected heads of state have been ousted in the face of violent unrest, something nearly unheard of in the previous decade. A widely noted United Nations survey of 19,000 Latin Americans in 18 countries in April produced a startling result: a majority would choose a dictator over an elected leader if that provided economic benefits.

Analysts say that the main source of the discontent is corruption and the widespread feeling that elected governments have done little or nothing to help the 220 million people in the region who still live in poverty, about 43 percent of the population....

Among the weakest states is Guatemala, which struggles with paramilitary groups, youth gangs and judicial impunity and has become a crossroads for the smuggling of people and drugs to the United States.

Several other governments are fragile at best and susceptible to popular unrest that could further weaken and topple them. These include the interim administration of Prime Minister Gérard Latortue in Haiti, which took power after a popular revolt this year, and President Carlos Mesa in Bolivia, who took power after such a revolt last year.

The most unpredictable and volatile region is the Andes....

Their struggles vividly demonstrate an issue that animates strife in nearly all Latin America — the gap between the haves and have-nots of money and power that makes the region the world's most inequitable, and increasingly the most politically polarized.

FMLN: the purges begin

This editorial cartoon from today's La Prensa Gráfica should not be taken as simply the skewed vision of a conservative paper. Today's story in that paper has ample citations from respected reformista leaders such as Oscar Ortiz, Gerson Martínez, Héctor David Cordoba and Ileana Rogel, all protesting the expulsion two days ago of San Salvador FMLN coordinator Roberto Hernández. El Diario de Hoy reporters asked for a copy of the FMLN's Ethics Tribunal statutes in order to better understand what articles were being used to expel Hernández, but they were denied any access to that document. The problem is that even leading FMLN party members were not familiar with the rules invoked for the expulsion.

FMLN deputy Córdova notes the contradiction between the FMLN asking for justice in the courts, while their own Ethics Tribunal has taken this decision with little due process or review of the case. Ortiz and others make it clear that this is an effort to intimidate the reformistas, who are battling to take over the FMLN leadership in internal elections to be held in November. Both factions of the FMLN have their own structures in place to register party members and get out the vote for these elections. And the local press is only happy to cover these factional struggles.

A new political party law, theoretically one of the conditions of a $3.5 million loan to the Legislative Assembly by the Inter-American Development Bank, might eventually bring more transparency and order to such party problems, in the FMLN as well as in ARENA.

Maquila closing -- sign of things to come?

Following up on Monday's post on maquilas:

Charles Products, a maquila operation that sold products to Walt Disney and the GAP, with financing from Hong Kong investors, has shut down its operations and headed to Sri Lanka. According to El Diario de Hoy, a delegation of U.S. legislators had visited this business in May, and the imminent closing was used as an argument for the rapid approval of CAFTA. The head of the Salvadoran Association of the Clothing Industry said that this case was an important indicator, since Charles Products was one of the leading exporters of clothes to the U.S. from El Salvador.

A thousand people lost their jobs with this move, while the company -- in peak season -- employed 1800 people.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Chile and the hubris of U.S. policy

Intellectual battles are still being fought in certain circles over the extent and importance of the U.S. role in destabilizing the Allende government in Chile. Fellow Latin America-phile blogger Randy Paul wrote recently about an issue that had appeared in the New York Times, and earlier in The Nation, about the resignation by Kenneth Maxwell of his position as Latin American books editor of Foreign Affairs magazine. Maxwell had quit after he felt the magazine had caved in to pressures from Henry Kissinger and William Rogers, who were upset about a positive review he'd given on a new book by Peter Kornbluh, The Pinochet File: A Declassified Dossier On Atrocity And Accountability.

Then, last week, Jeremy Adelman, a Princeton history prof who was set to take over Maxwell's position, declined because of the whole controversy. The New York Times reported:

"While I still think this is an important position and the magazine is important, the amount of time it would take for me to explain the situation to the world of Latin America experts, the world that I inhabit, was too great," he said. He added that the editor of Foreign Affairs, James F. Hoge Jr., was quoted in the Folha as saying that Peter G. Peterson, the council's chairman, had called to advise him that the review had upset Mr. Kissinger and others.
Ah, such a messy affair. The original review is here, while a response by Rogers, and counter-response by Maxwell, is here. Comments from Kornbluh are apparently forthcoming in future editions of the magazine.

All I can say is that I recall hearing that, at a Princeton conference a few years ago on the Allende years, my old prof, Paul Sigmund (who 20 years ago spent a great deal of energy debunking the notion of the importance of the U.S.), after seeing these newly declassified documents, apparently recanted his long-held position that the U.S. role was insignificant and that "Allende would have fallen anyway."

Monday, June 21, 2004

Don't cry for me, Argentine torturers

Héctor Tobar, a staff writer for the Los Angeles Times, found this under-reported story in the Argentine press, about what happens these days to Argentine military who still think that the atrocities of the dirty war should be cause for promotion. It's worth a look:

Lt. Col. Guillermo Bruno Laborda was upset he didn't get the promotion to full colonel that he felt he deserved. So he wrote an angry letter to Argentine army brass last month detailing the "meritorious" acts of his 28 years of military service.

As a young lieutenant in the late 1970s, he wrote, he had personally executed prisoners, and then set their bodies on fire, just as his superiors had ordered. He had shot a young mother a day after she delivered her baby, and then tossed the woman's body into a hole and set it on fire too.

During Argentina's "dirty war" against leftist activists and urban guerrillas, these "were considered true and unavoidable acts of service," he wrote, and all the emotional pain he had endured because of them should be taken into account in the decision on his promotion.

Bruno Laborda's chilling letter -- complete with the final words of many of his victims -- marks the first time the military has made public an acting officer's confession to his role in illegal executions during Argentina's bloody years of dictatorship and repression. Not long after he submitted it, the military had him arrested.

Although reported in the Argentine media with little fanfare, the case demonstrates a shift in the country's military culture. It is widely believed here that officers seeking promotion routinely made arguments similar to those of Bruno Laborda's but that they were kept secret....(complete story)

According to a story in the San Francisco Chronicle, this poster is "designed to make people question whether the United States is adhering to democratic ideals if American soldiers have been guilty of widespread prison abuse, if the Patriot Act continues to trample civil liberties, and if Washington continues to instigate questionable policies, says the poster's co-creator, San Francisco novelist Robert Mailer Anderson."

Reich: Goodbye, and good riddance

I missed the fact that Otto Reich, the Bush envoy to Latin America for the past 18 months (a post that does not require Senate confirmation), has quietly left. Most recently notorious for his meddling in the Salvadoran elections and the failed Venezuelan coup last year (not to mention Cuba), he apparently found it frustrating to be in a White House that has stopped paying attention to Latin America.

According to a report from the Down Jones Newswire,

Few policy initiatives have been directed elsewhere in the region [beyond Cuba], and almost all have failed. Reich's attempts to secure broad support for the U.S. invasion of Iraq met stiff opposition and several leaders bristled at the envoy's heavy-handed efforts to enlist their help in Bush's declared "war on terror."

"When (Reich) beats them over the head with a two-by-four and tells them they have to change their strategy to counter terrorism, they tend to be a little hostile," said Joseph Tulchin, head of the Latin American program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington.

Tulchin isn't sure things are going to get much better any time soon.

"Bush is surrounded by very intelligent people, although none of them are particularly knowledgeable on Latin America or interested in Latin America," he said.

Roger Noriega, who eventually was approved by Congress to become assistant secretary of state for the Western Hemisphere, has maintained a relatively low profile. John Maisto, the U.S. representative to the Organization of American States, has a reputation for being a skilled diplomat but also isn't believed to be in Bush's inner circle.

The lack of a focus on Latin America comes at a time when there's a lot happening. Venezuela, a major oil supplier to the U.S., is in political turmoil. Weak governments in impoverished Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru are in danger of toppling. And foreign bondholders are locked in a bitter dispute with Argentina over $100 billion in defaulted debt.

Relations with Brazil, Latin America's largest country, also could be better as Brasilia and Washington blame each other for stalled talks aimed at creating an Americas-wide free trade zone.

Is there hope for Central American maquilas?

"Thank God for American kids. They change their minds all the time."

That phrase encapsulates what might be the last, best hope for Central American maquilas, at least from the perspective of maquila owners. This recent article from the Wall Street Journal notes that Central American maquila owners -- once they lose their preferential trade status (the end of quotas) on January 1, 2005 -- are no longer going to be able to count on cheap labor as an advantage. China will enter the market, so then maquilas here will have to find other comparative advantages -- and that will mean taking advantage of being closer to US markets, and giving a quick turnaround on new products. The article cites the head of outsourcing at Liz Claiborne as saying that by 2010, he predicts, China could supply more than 80% of all U.S. clothing -- up from about 13% now.

The article is a good primer on the challenges facing Central American textile owners, and workers:

When U.S. pants production fled in the 1980s and 1990s, it largely went south, speeded by the North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico. Levi Strauss & Co. closed its last U.S. plant in December. Today, more than a third of all pants bought in the U.S. come from Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Guatemala and Nicaragua. More than 150,000 people in the region earn their livings making pants for the U.S. market.

What sends chills through the area is this: The end of quotas next year will allow China to ship all the pants it wants to the U.S. -- at prices up to 20% below those charged by producers in Guatemala or the Dominican Republic. The price difference would come even after China pays 17% duties that Central American countries don't pay on cotton pants.
How will Central America be affected?
Companies in Mexico, which makes a fourth of all cotton trousers bound for the U.S., have done little to adapt to coming changes and are likely to be the hardest hit. In Central America and the Caribbean, even optimists concede that about half of the 500,000 jobs at the region's 1,000 garment companies could vanish in the next five years.

"Vendors that get what matters, like speed to market and awareness of the latest trends, will succeed. Those that don't will disappear," says Jeffrey Frye, head of Latin American sourcing for Gap, the San Francisco-based U.S. retailer that, in addition to Old Navy, owns Banana Republic.
Can CAFTA help?

Shipping tends to take two weeks more from China than from Central America. Proximity allows buyers to change their minds later and more often.... One speed bump: Producers in the region must use domestic or U.S. fabric to get duty-free access to the U.S. market. That dependence
increases turnaround times and requires companies to maintain huge inventories.

Central American pants producers are pushing for better access to the U.S. through the Central American Free Trade Agreement. It would extend duty-free treatment beyond apparel to most goods from Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua, and would ease the rules on what fabrics companies can use and still avoid tariffs. The pact, signed by the participating countries last month, faces grim odds in Congress, where Democrats object to what they claim are its weak labor and environmental protections.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

More on sugar and child labor

I'll have a few critical words in a few days about the recent HRW report on child labor in the sugar industry in El Salvador (see post a few days ago), as well as the government reaction, but it's clear that it's not just the government and HRW that have a hard time keeping their facts straight(now you know where I'll be headed).

The other day there was a press release from the Democratic candidate for Senate in Louisiana, Chris John, that found in the Washington Post story an amazing argument against CAFTA. In a June 10 press release, John notes:

The Post story notes that more than 17 million children between the ages of 5 and 14 are working sugarcane and other crops in Central America, decreasing the overhead production costs of crops that are then sold cheaply on the world market.
Wait a minute -- there may not be that many children in all of Central America! The Post report uses the 17 million number to refer to Latin America (and most likely, the Carribean), which has a total population of over 520 million people. Central America, by contrast, has around 33 million, according to the UN Population Division.

By the way, the Child Labor Coalition carries out a survey every year of self-reporting by state labor departments of inspections that reveal violations of child labor laws.

Louisiana is one of about a quarter of all states that do not respond to their survey.

D'Escoto, Reagan & the "demoralizing ethical hara-kiri" of the FSLN

It is quite telling that declarations by former foreign minister Miguel D'Escoto, eulogizing Reagan as "the butcher of my people," are circulating so widely and indiscriminately in the progressive media and via email. What does this tell us? That the U.S. progressive community has ignored Central America for so long that they fail to realize how people like D'Escoto are deeply discredited among the Latin American left. Read this interview with him a few years ago, done by Carlos Fernando Chamorro for his very good weekly Confidencial, and you can see how indeed he's an unrepentant member of the inner circle of that infamous Nicaraguan caudillo, Daniel Ortega,

For years now, it has been said that no one of any integrity is left among the Sandinista leadership. That's not just my opinion: if you look closely, you'll see that the Nicaragua Network is no longer a shill for the FSLN; and in the current issue of NACLA, Alejandro Bendaña documents the decline of the FSLN, citing here the opinion of various standard-bearers of the Latin American left:

According to Chilean journalist Marta Harnecker, “The conduct of many Sandinista leaders provided fodder for negative press campaigns by the opposition, and leading [sic] to an increased separation between Sandinista leaders and their support base.” Jesuit priest and one-time economic advisor to the Sandinista government Xavier Gorostiaga recalls how “the ‘bourgeoisification’ of the Sandinista leadership increased their isolation from people’s real needs.” What caused its division and disintegration, writes Gorostiaga, “was the personal ambition of the leadership who sought the success of their own projects rather than the consolidation of an alternative model.” The tremendous moral and human effort by a small republic in the Empire’s backyard was eventually undermined and corrupted by a “demoralizing ethical hara-kiri,” he adds. Eduardo Galeano laments that the Sandinistas lost the 1990 presidential elections “on account of a devastating and draining war. And afterwards, as usually happens, some of the leaders sinned against hope, incredibly turning against their own sayings and their own work.”
There is much to mourn about the Reagan administration policy toward Central America. It's just too bad that the attention span of U.S. progressives is such that they misguidedly promote the views of people they assume to be ideological soulmates, but who in fact have deeply tarnished pasts.

Sunday, June 13, 2004

Reagan's passion: Can the left learn from it?

Earlier this week, after receiving via email yet another lefty article which I felt needlessly reminded us of the ills and evils of the Reagan administration, I circulated an unsigned editorial from The Capital Times, Wisconsin's progressive newspaper, a paper I'd frankly never heard of before.

This opinion piece went beyond the breast-beating righteousness and indignation common to many articles on the left to say, "wait a minute, maybe there's something we can learn from the guy."

Now I see that John Nichols must be the author of that editorial (he's the associate editor of The Capital Times), as he has a slightly revised version in his online column for The Nation this week. I like this piece because while it preaches to the choir (like every other article of a similarly progressive strain), it also makes me think (unlike many other articles, which offer mostly rehashed diatribes).

For those upset about the quasi-canonization of Reagan, Nichols urges calm: "Rest assured that the radical reworking of history that America witnessed in the hours after Ronald Reagan died Saturday at age 93 will be temporary." In the part quoted below, Nichols also protests the media's rosy hagiography of Reagan, but he says there is something positive to be learned by progressives:

...The problem with all this hero worship is that the spin underestimates and mischaracterizes Reagan. It reduces a complex and controversial man to a blurry icon with few of the rough edges that made him one of the most remarkable political figures of his time.

That he was remarkable does not mean that he was right.... Yet, there is something that liberals can--and should--learn from Reagan.

Ronald Reagan was a master politician who understood how to package rightwing ideas in appealing enough forms to get himself elected and, sometimes, to implement his programs. Even when Americans did not like the ideas Reagan was peddling--as in 1984, when polls showed Democrat Walter Mondale's ideas were significantly more popular--they liked Reagan. Throughout his career, Reagan benefitted from the penchant of Americans to embrace politicians who seem to be at ease with their ideology. This sense that true believers are genuine creates confidence in citizens, lending itself to lines like, "Even if you disagree with him, you know where he stands." And such lines translate on election day into votes that frequently cross ideological and partisan lines.

Reagan connected as a conservative by displaying an optimism about his ideology and its potential that most right-leaning politicians before him had lacked. And that optimism transformed the conservative movement from a petty circle of grumbling cynics who believed that every glass was half empty--and probably poisoned--into energetic and, dare it be said, happy warriors on behalf of tax cuts, ever-more-expensive weapons systems, corporate welfare, privatization, deregulation and the blurring of lines between church and state.

In the years after Republican right-winger Barry Goldwater's landslide loss of the 1964 presidential election, many conservatives had doubts about whether they would ever be able to peddle their programs successfully. But Reagan did not doubt. He believed. And his faith was infectious. It helped him beat a liberal Democratic governor of California in 1966 and a moderate Democratic President in 1980. And it permitted a new generation of conservatives to feel they were part of a movement with not just principles but with a future.

As that movement grasped its future, during Reagan's presidency and in its aftermath, liberals--particularly those working within the constraints of the Democratic Party--began to be the ones who entertained doubts. Many Democrats gave up altogether on the liberal values that had carried that party to its greatest successes, and moved to the right. It was a tragic error, for which the Democratic party continues to pay.

The lesson to be learned from Reagan is not an ideological one. His ideology was wrong for America and wrong for the world--something even Reagan sometimes recognized, as when he backed away from the most extreme tenets of the conservative agenda to, for instance, defend Social Security, and when he finally agreed, at the behest of Margaret Thatcher, to negotiate with reformist Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

Rather, the lesson to be learned from Reagan is a stylistic one. He loved preaching his conservative doctrines. And he loved battling with liberals at the ballot box, at the debate podium and in the Capitol. He was a conservative first, a Republican second. He showed no respect for party decorum, challenging a sitting Republican President--Gerald Ford--who he felt was too moderate. And he was willing to lose on principle, whether in that 1976 nomination fight with Ford or, during his presidential terms, in fights with Congress over tax policy, foreign affairs or nominations to the US Supreme Court.

Just imagine if Bill Clinton had been as committed to advancing an activist liberal ideology as Reagan was to his conservative agenda. America might have a national health care plan today. Labor law reform could have been a reality, rather than an empty promise. The United States would certainly have a more progressive judiciary. And here's another notion: If Clinton or Al Gore had put as much energy and enthusiasm into educating Americans about and promoting a liberal agenda as Reagan did for his conservative ideals, the United States would today have a different Congress and President.

This willingness to fight so fearlessly and forcefully for his political faith is what made the fortieth President remarkable. It is what inspired conservatives. And it is the one thing that liberals would do well to learn from Ronald Reagan.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

HRW report out on child labor in El Salvador

A lot of editors screwed up their coverage today of the new HRW report on child labor on Salvadoran sugar plantations, where up to a third of the workers are children. The problem is that the AP titled their story "Group urges boycott of Salvadoran sugar," when in fact there's no such proposed action, either in the AP story or in the recommendations of the HRW report itself! In fact, the report recommends:

Where their supplier plantations fall short of international standards and national legislation, mills should provide the economic and technical assistance necessary to bring plantations into compliance. Sugar mills should not sever contractual ties with supplier plantations before taking steps to help plantations achieve compliance with international norms. Mills should never take actions that would deprive child laborers of their livelihoods without ensuring that children and their families are receiving programs and services designed to provide them with alternatives to hazardous labor.
Check here to see Google's compilation of stories run across the country, and which editors caught the gross mistitling of the story by AP.

The Miami Herald was one that carried this misleading headline, while the Washington Post's Kevin Sullivan writes a feature piece datelined from El Salvador with a more measured headline, "El Salvador Scarred by Child Labor." He notes that

More than 17 million children between the ages of 5 and 14 are working in the region [Latin America], according to a 2002 report by the International Labor Organization.... Child labor perpetuates poverty by drawing the younger generation into the same low-wage manual jobs as their parents, often at the expense of education, according to poverty experts.... While children also tend crops such as coffee, onions and tomatoes, sugar cane work is considered far more dangerous and rigorous.
This report follows several others in the past couple of years, the first on El Salvador by HRW since I stopped working for them in 1993. The renewed attention to El Salvador, on abuse of domestic workers and on workers' rights, is most certainly due to a desire to influence the US policy debate around CAFTA. Many businesses these days have taken to putting an "El Salvador Works" sticker on their products, as part of the first international promotional campaign in the nation's history, which was launched in 2002 with goal of doubling investment in the country by 2004 (it hasn't worked). So you can imagine the government and private sector won't be pleased with this new negative publicity.

None of these HRW reports have received much attention in the Salvadoran mainstream (read: conservative) media, but I'll check back in if this one does make a splash. The largely pro-government media are obviously loathe to let Salvadorans know what the rest of the world sees through these reports, as if censoring this news will make it go away.

The report also takes aim most specifically at Coca-Cola, and the AP story notes evidence that the HRW investigation may have already had an impact: "Coca-Cola said the Human Rights Watch investigation had prompted the Salvadoran sugar industry association to demand 'zero tolerance of child labor' at cooperatives and to increase monitoring both in the fields and in mills, while working to increase educational opportunities for children."

Here's a bit of the HRW press release on this new report:

(New York, June 10, 2004)—Businesses purchasing sugar from El Salvador, including The Coca-Cola Company, are using the product of child labor that is both hazardous and widespread, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.

Harvesting cane requires children to use machetes and other sharp knives to cut sugarcane and strip the leaves off the stalks, work they perform for up to nine hours each day in the hot sun. Nearly every child interviewed by Human Rights Watch for its 139-page report , “Turning a Blind Eye: Hazardous Child Labor in El Salvador’s Sugarcane Cultivation,” said that he or she had suffered machete gashes on the hands or legs while cutting cane. These risks led one former labor inspector to characterize sugarcane as the most dangerous of all forms of agricultural work.

“Child labor is rampant on El Salvador’s sugarcane plantations,” said Michael Bochenek, counsel to the Children’s Rights Division of Human Rights Watch. “Companies that buy or use Salvadoran sugar should realize that fact and take responsibility for doing something about it.”

Up to one-third of the workers on El Salvador’s sugarcane plantations are children under the age of 18, many of whom began to work in the fields between the ages of eight and 13. The International Labor Organization estimates that at least 5,000 and as many as 30,000 children under age 18 work on Salvadoran sugar plantations. El Salvador sets a minimum working age of 18 for dangerous occupations and 14 for most other forms of work.

Medical care is often not available on the plantations, and children must frequently pay for the cost of their medical treatment. They are not reimbursed by their employers despite a provision in the Salvadoran labor code that makes employers responsible for medical expenses resulting from on-the-job injuries.

Another Reagan remembrance....

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

EDH: Reagan's "interventionist and ruinous" scheme in El Salvador

Every once in a while it's good to read the editorial page of the far-right El Diario de Hoy just to remind ourselves of who's running that influential paper, one of the two largest in the country. Today's editorial finally has something to say about Reagan, who gets a decidedly mixed review.

EDH loves Reagan's fight against communism, and his defense of the market, but they're deeply critical of his contradictory role in El Salvador:

In 1980 El Salvador was at the brink of collapse, since the Carter presidency in the U.S. began applying the same strategy that two years earlier had made Nicaragua fall into communism. Carter encouraged a coup d'etat that, at the end of 1979, brought to power a coalition of communists, christian democrats and fellow travellers, with a radical agenda. The theory was that, by adopting the policies pushed by the extreme left, the country was going to avoid falling into the same situation as Nicaragua, but the Carter objective was another: turn the country over to communism.

The Reagan victory reversed this plan: the United States began to arm our military and the Carterist strategy was foiled. But, inexplicably, Reagan supported the gang of thieves that Carter had installed in power, resulting in the bankruptcy of the country, and in a twelve-year war, longer than the two world wars combined. A liberal president, apostle of the free market, maintained an interventionist and ruinous scheme in El Salvador, contradicting his great work.
While there's no "objective" evidence that Carter's objective was to turn the country over to communism, at least this last point has a basis in fact. In 1984, the Reagan administration provided both overt and covert assistance to Duarte in the presidential contest against Roberto D'Aubuisson:

The CIA reportedly gave a significant amount of funds, possibly between $1 million and $3 million, for Duarte's campaign... On the overt side, the US Embassy lobbied very actively on Duarte's behalf in El Salvador, making sure that all major political sectors understood that the United States government favored a Duarte victory and that a victory by the right would jeopardize the extensive economic and military aid relationship between the two countries.
This last part sounds familiar, eh? These details can be found just about anywhere, because they were reported at the time in places like the Washington Post, the Boston Globe and Time magazine. My cite is taken from Tom Carothers' first book, In the Name of Democracy, about U.S. Policy toward Latin America in the Reagan years.

Carothers says in a footnote that while the $1-3 million might not sound like a lot of money, the assistance provided to Duarte would equal about $50-$100 million in the U.S. context, if you take into account the relative size of the two populations.

So that's why the Salvadoran Right begrudges Ronald Reagan.

NOTE: Jefferson Morley of the Washington Post, in his online discussion today, says: "I am quite sure it is only case I have seen of Reagan being criticized from the right, for being too much like Jimmy Carter."

My favorite Reagan irony

"Despite Mr. Reagan's image as the champion of small government, one of the ironies in Washington today is that the biggest federal government building constructed since the Pentagon -- 3.1 million square feet of offices, conventional halls and retail office -- bears the name: The Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center."

-- from a Monday, June 7, Wall Street Journal article

Monday, June 07, 2004

Flores' next steps

Now we know what Paco Flores is going to do next.

News Advisory:

Francisco Flores, former president of El Salvador (1999-2004) will hold a Newsmaker news conference on Thursday, June 10, at noon at the National Press Club (Lisagor Room), 529 14th St., N.W., 13th floor, Washington, D.C.

Flores will launch the America Libre Institute: a think tank that will focus on development, democracy and freedom in the Western Hemisphere to promote free trade, open markets, etc., and close cooperation among countries.

Reagan, Duarte and the Contras

These two presidents were not exactly comfortable bedfellows, especially when it came to economic policy. But still, Duarte was the Reagan adminstration's best hope for gradually eroding the social, political and economic basis for the insurgency during the 1980s.

Today El Diario de Hoy publishes an interesting anecdote from Duarte's old minister of culture and communications, Adolfo Rey Prendes, regarding the origins of Duarte's most infamous moment -- the time he when he knelt down and kissed the American flag during a state visit to the U.S.. Rey Prendes now says that Duarte thought of this as a gesture that might win the confidence of Reagan, given other disagreements:

"The problem is that during the official visit there was a dispute between Reagan and Napoleón with respect to the fact that Reagan constantly asked Duarte for his support for the Contras in Nicaragua. And when he ended up rejecting all of the proposals in favor of the Contras, Napoleón couldn't think of a better idea for lowering the state of confrontation that they'd had than to kiss the flag."
Of course, Rey Prendes' memory fails him a bit. Duarte did allow for the Ilopango airbase to be used for the resupply of the contras, as we later learned from Hasenfus and the Iran-Contra affair. But perhaps Duarte did reject more overt measures of support for the Nicaraguan contras.

Nevertheless, that flag-kissing episode is a milestone in the annals of Salvadoran leaders fawning before the U.S., right up there with Paco Flores' pronouncement that he had had "no greater honor" than to call George W. Bush a friend.

Evangelicals on Iraq, in Brazil

"I was struck by the way that just before the Iraq war was started, all these evangelical congressmen, however conservative the party they were in and however wild and woolly the charismatic church they were from, were all thoroughly against the war," Freston said. "I didn't hear a single word from anybody in favor of that."

--quote from Paul Freston, an expert on the political influence of evangelicals in Latin America and professor at Calvin College in Michigan,in an article today in the Los Angeles Times on the influence of evangelicals in Brazil.

Sunday, June 06, 2004

Reagan, desde América Latina

This Nicaraguan mural -- a gun-toting Reagan on the shoulders of a working woman -- represents how many in Central America will remember the former President.

Doyle McManus of the Los Angeles Times revisits the dispute among historians about the legacy of Ronald Reagan, and his role in ending the Cold War, and there one finds this perhaps surprising acknowledgement from one historian of Central America:

"Reagan's contribution to ending the Cold War was comparable to [President] Nixon's contribution to opening up China," said Walter LaFeber, a historian at Cornell University who has long been critical of Reagan. "Politically, to have somebody of Reagan's ideology do this was very important. It would have been very difficult for [a Democrat] to do it."
The Washington Post, on the other hand, cites Jorge Castañeda's review of Reagan as very mixed, from a Mexican perspective:

Reagan's involvement in civil wars in Nicaragua and El Salvador was viewed in Mexico as unwarranted meddling that was "interventionist, rooted in Cold War rivalries and disrespectful of international law," Castañeda said. "Not only were his policies viewed negatively, but he pressured Mexico enormously to change its foreign policies."

But when Mexico suffered a financial crisis in 1982, Castañeda said, Reagan became personally involved in the bailout. "Despite differences on foreign policy, when problems came up in the bilateral area, Mexico could count on him and did count on him," Castañeda said.
But when it comes to Central America itself, the Post highlighted Nicaragua:

...Reagan's financial and military support for anti-government rebels "caused a lot of damage in our country, a lot of suffering, a lot of death and destruction," said Carlos Chamorro, a journalist and political analyst, whose mother, Violeta Chamorro, became president in elections in 1990 that ended the rule of the Marxist-led Sandinistas.

"There might be a group that was supported by Reagan that may have a different memory of him. But I have the impression that a majority of the people will associate him with the war and with the destruction," Chamorro said. The U.S.-backed war killed at least 20,000 people.
To be fair, if you took a poll, Reagan --the ultimate anti-communist-- might have as many admirers as detractors in Latin America. In El Salvador, Reagan "drew the line against communism" in the hemisphere, so what do people here think 25 years later? La Prensa Gráfica has a story citing very distinct opinions from political leaders, demonstrating that it's not only the present that's polarized politically, but also Salvadorans' memory of the past.

President Tony Saca says "Former President Reagan represented a whole era of democracy. Reagan identified himself with this country, with its democracy and helped in difficult moments."

Gloria Salguero Gross, his new Commissioner on Governance, agrees but also undermines her new boss's ideas about 1980s democracy in El Salvador: she regrets that he never reversed the agrarian reform of the early 1980s--a not-to-subtle acknowledgement of the power of the U.S. government in those days.

Rubén Zamora provides a standard left assessment: "He placed El Salvador in a highly ideological context. And helped prolong the conflict in the country. He not made it so that the war was prolonged, but also deepened. In his period there was practically a denial of a negotiated political settlement."

NCR--Latin America: Search for a future

Paul Jeffrey, a Methodist missionary-cum-stellar-journalist for two decades now in Central America (based in Honduras), and Barb Fraser, freelancer from Peru, have launched a rich 10-part series on Latin America for the National Catholic Reporter, entitled "Latin America: Search for a future."

The first two articles are already out, and the others are yet to come. Given the paucity of popular coverage of Latin America these days, this series is indeed a welcome event. It's also something of a swan song for Paul, as he moves this summer to Portland, Oregon, leaving behind an impressive opus. Perhaps a book is in order?

PART 1: Introduction: Power or credibility?
PART 2: Economics: Little relief in sight for poverty, debt and unemployment
PART 3: Development: Lasting change by helping the poor without paternalism
PART 4: Immigration: Opportunity and challenge for Latin America's poor
PART 5: Reconciliation from the grass roots up
PART 6: Indigenous people: Fighting for rights after centuries of discrimination
PART 7: Women In Latin America: The gender gap kills
PART 8: Children: Poverty cuts children’s chances for a future; interview with the Bishop of the Gangs
PART 9: Church: Despite crisis, Latin America's grass-roots communities remain strong model for effective church
PART 10: Solidarity: Church groups find countless ways to put faith into action

Saturday, June 05, 2004

Latin militaries and our discontents

The New York Times editorial writers (Tina Rosenberg?) are sounding a bit like WOLA these days (a good thing, in this case), as they take up today the issue of the dangers of increased reliance on Latin American militaries to address the region's woes. For openers:

...hemispheric relations are once again increasingly driven by America's military. This isn't healthy. History shows that when military-to-military ties dominate the relationship, as they did for much of the cold war, generals in Latin America feel empowered to act in any way they want so long as they guarantee a semblance of stability.

"Don't Know, Should Care"

Such is the title of a piece by Jeffrey Sachs in today's NYTimes. With a broad brush, he blasts the US government's approach (not just Bush)to the world's poor, using USAID as a convenient yet deserved whipping boy. Here are the highlights:

...In the world's poorest regions, from the Andes to Central Asia, the government seems to operate almost blindly, facing challenges that it simply does not understand and therefore can't resolve.

This isn't a problem that started in this Bush administration, though the combination of ignorance and arrogance in President Bush's foreign policy has proved especially lethal. Since the early 1980's, American development programs have been gutted, to the point that there is little institutional understanding about societies seething because of mass unemployment, rapid population growth, pervasive disease and chronic hunger.

...When I went to key Bush administration officials in 2001 to urge stepping up the battle against the AIDS pandemic, my counterparts were lawyers, holdovers from the cold war and political operatives. What was lacking was professional expertise, which was bottled up at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health, neither of which had been given the lead in setting AIDS policy. Nor was USAID any better. Its budget and expertise had been so sapped by 2001 that there were few independent thinkers left, and even fewer who knew the details of the AIDS catastrophe in Africa.

Even though there is genuine interest in the Bush administration for battling AIDS, too much politics and too little professionalism resulted in years of delay in starting President Bush's global AIDS initiative, and millions died as a result. That disheartening loss of time and opportunity has been matched in other circumstances.

...Changing all of this will require much more than recognizing the errors of the Iraq war. A good starting point would be to rebuild the USAID into a pre-eminent agency for understanding and resolving human catastrophes and security threats arising from extreme poverty. This agency requires a professional, nonpoliticized leadership and staff; a new mandate to study a world economy of startling inequalities; increased financial resources to help fragile and impoverished countries before they fall into chaos; and a rank as a cabinet-level department, so that expertise gets a hearing at the centers of power.

But our efforts will need to go beyond one agency. We must have leaders who recognize that the problems of the poor aren't trifles to leave to do-gooders, but are vital strategic issues. For the first time in decades, we must strive to understand problems — tropical disease, malnutrition and the like — that are unfamiliar to us but are urgent concerns of billions of people abroad. In the case of a superpower, ignorance is not bliss; it is a threat to Americans and to humanity.

WPost's screwy definition of "Americas"

I went looking just now on the Americas page of the Washington Post, and there the second bold headline read "Agency Eyes Brazil." Read the summary, and it's obviously referring to DC Council member Harold Brazil. And read on, because there are other notable examples.

What, are they using google to set up their regional indices?

UPDATE, June 7: I wrote an editor I know at the Post, and they seemed to have resolved this problem as of Monday

Covering El Salvador, or not

Lest anyone think I live in a country of any importance to the rest of the world, at least as judged by press coverage in the New York Times and Washington Post, think again. In those papers' respective Americas sections you'll find nary a word about the recent inauguration of Tony Saca. (Nothing of note either in any major progressive, centrist or even conservative magazine.)

Marcela Sanchez did bid farewell to Paco Flores in her widely syndicated column last week, but apart from providing some useful information, I really didn't see her point.

So leave it to the Financial Times to educate the virtual world, with a story that looks at some of the challenges facing Saca. I got a peek at it when if first came out, but now it appears to be available only through subscription. So here it is in its entirety, with key grafs highlighted:

President faces stagnation battle in El Salvador
By Sara Silver and John Authers
Published: June 1 2004 19:20 | Last Updated: June 1 2004 19:20

When Antonio Saca took office on Tuesday as the fourth president of El Salvador since the end of the civil war in 1992, he faced a difficult task in preserving the country's status as a Central American success story and a laboratory for neo-liberal economic reforms.

More than a decade of rigid financial orthodoxy has left El Salvador with a stable economy, a distinction it shares in the region only with Chile and Mexico. The country privatised its electricity and telecommunications industries, limited its deficits, and two years ago even abandoned its currency when it chose to adopt the dollar.

"Dollarisation has underpinned and locked in economic stability," said Juan José Daboub, finance minister under the incumbent president, Francisco Flores. "That's reflected in the lowest interest rates in the region, including Panama, which has been dollarised for a century."

However, the problem for Mr Saca is that growth has stopped. El Salvador's gross domestic product per capita has remained static for the last five years, leaving the country more dependent than any other on remittances from migrant workers. Last year, remittances accounted for 14 per cent of GDP.

Francisco Molina, a San Salvador-based independent economist, said: "The economy is in a process of stagnation, which it's been in now for eight years," he says. "They've run out of steam and ideas. The only thing they've done in that time was the madness of dollarisation."

Mr Daboub and supporters of the government point to the problems caused to El Salvador by two earthquakes in 2001 and the collapse in the world coffee price. But critics say the reconstruction effort should have created a stimulus to the economy, and that growth had been static for several years before the country was hit by natural disasters.

The economic stagnation has created a political problem for Mr Saca. The public showed their dissatisfaction last year by electing leftwing opponents of the government into a majority in Congress. That Congress will remain in place until March 2006.

Mr Saca, like his three predecessors, comes from the rightwing, pro-business Arena party, and won a surprisingly emphatic victory in the election two months ago. But he is a more emollient and less ideological candidate than his predecessors.

In his victory speech in March, Mr Saca said he would be a president of "renewal," charged with softening the impact of the government's economic policies. That will mean an increased "strong hand" policy against the gang warfare which has given the country the worst crime rate in Central America, and an attempt to concentrate on social policy.

His team is also hoping that El Salvador's stability will help it benefit from the Central American Free Trade Agreement (Cafta) with the US. The country could become the strategic base for companies wanting to do business in Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua.

However, many analysts are urging Mr Saca to use his political honeymoon to try to raise taxes.

Guido Cipriani, a director of UBS financial services group, says delay in pursuing "major tax reform" could undermine the government's ability to fund its new social programmes and, in the longer-term, could hinder its ability to finance its debt.

El Salvador's tax take last year was only 12.1 per cent of GDP, up from 11.8 per cent the year before. Mr Cipriani suggests that the country needs a budgetary adjustment of 3 percentage points of GDP, something that could only be achieved with significant fiscal reform.

William Pleitez, who compiled the latest United Nations development programme report on human development in El Salvador, says the country suffers from chronically high production costs - a problem exacerbated by dollarisation, which removed the option of devaluation.

"Truly there are structural obstacles to growth now," Mr Pleitez says. "How do we break this vicious circle? I'm of the opinion that if you have a strong exchange rate there are only two ways to deal with this - reducing the costs of production, and increasing the productivity of the workforce. That requires strong levels of public investment."

Friday, June 04, 2004

Creative disarmament

The AP reports that Guatemala offers a bikes-for-guns exchange:
Give up that old pistol and Guatemala's government will give you corrugated metal sheets for roofing. Two guns will get you a new bicycle. Three gets you a sewing machine. more

More on the latest IUDOP poll

My brief comments on the latest IUDOP poll prompted this email exchange with Dean Brackley, S.J., who’s more in touch with popular sentiment than I can ever claim to be:

Dean: On the IUDOP poll.... While 67% of those polled found "algun cambio positivo" in Flores administration and this was prominently reported (e.g., in the LPG), 53% found "algun cambio negativo" -- which was under-reported or unreported, giving the impression of a much more favorable reading of the Flores administration than was the case.

And how 'bout the fact that 37.7% of the population polled considers the election of Saca "illegitimate"!?
David: Looked at this again. 32.9 percent found NOTHING positive in the Flores administration. But 47.1% found NOTHING negative (no negative changes) in his government. Given the way that's phrased, this is really a high degree of support. For example, this is such an open-ended question that if I thought milk prices had gone up, I could have said that was negative. But nearly half of the people couldn't think of anything. Of course, you have to put that together with other questions, where clearly there's alot to be desired (in economic issues, as I mentioned).

That the election was illegitimate as rated by 37.7%, and the previous 32.9% who saw absolutely nothing positive in the Flores administration IS important. It helps validate the idea that ES is extremely polarized. And while you can't just discard the 40%, and while apparently the incoming govt of Saca realizes that the governability of El Salvador depends on concertacion with the left, still the consistently high approval rating of Paco Flores (like it or not) in this day and age in Latin America, is incredibly high. Compare to Fox, to Lula, to Kirchner. And write it off to the buoyancy of the economy due to remittances, or false consciousness, but the reality is still there. Only 18.3 percent of those polled evaluated the Flores presidency as bad or very bad. 59% said good or very good, with 22.7 saying "regular". That's pretty remarkable.

Dean: This is a good observation [referring to the first point above]

The question seemed to me a little strange, but the answers are also puzzling: 47% with nothing negative to report! My point was the imbalance of reporting in the Salvadoran media.

And that Flores is highly rated in these times is remarkable. Would this be do to the lack of opposition, or imparcial, media (compared to Mexico and Argentina, or most other places) and the low level of education in El Salvador?
David: Yes, your point about coverage in media is a good one.

It's paradoxical to me why people can be so discontent, and at the same time think that these ARENA governments are good for them. Well, in the last election, it seemed to be a combination of fear of the unknown (or worse) from the alternative (FMLN), plus comfort in the known... People have commented that the average person sees the young Paco Flores, who has good relations with the US (where most salvadorans place their economic hopes--remember that most would leave tomorrow if they got the chance!), makes people more comfortable with a slowly changing status quo...

The orthodoxy of the left, failure to provide a reasonable alternative, I fear, contributes to this phenomenon.... giving people no where else to go.

By the way, this article in The Onion reminded me a bit of El Salvador's March elections.

Dean: From conversations with ordinary working-class folks, I believe you are right that THEIR vote for ARENA, the vote of people with precarious domestic economies mostly reflects fear of the unknown -- not just fear of the FMLN, but also, and maybe more, fear of the reaction from the right here and the U.S. government. Their fear is surely about economics -- that remittances would be cut off, that jobs would be lost. How much did they fear political disturbance, as well?

Laughing at ourselves

Here are a few tidbits from Joel Achenbach's typically humorous take on things in the Washington Post, this time on the "Take Back America" conference held by progressives the other day in Washington:

The progressives are in town, incredibly well behaved. They're focused and on message. They clap and cheer at appropriate moments during the speeches. There are no hecklers, no splinter groups, no eruptions of dissent over doctrinal impurities.

Progressives are suddenly as disciplined as Republicans. They realize all too keenly that there's a presidential election this fall between one man who is George W. Bush and one man who isn't.

"When your house is on fire, it's not time to talk about remodeling," said author and TV pundit Arianna Huffington, who popped up onstage and in the halls throughout the first two days of the conference.

...A progressive is what used to be known as a liberal. Liberals stopped being liberals about the time that Michael Dukakis rode around in the tank wearing the Snoopy helmet. A liberal has a bleeding heart and drives an avocado-green VW bus with a peace symbol on it; a progressive has a Listserv and raises money from his mountain biking club.

The 2,000 or so people at the Marriott might also be called the Left. But they're the polite Left, the conference-attending Left, the politically pragmatic Left that has no interest in getting in a skirmish with riot police. These people are not so enraged by globalization that they want to race across the hotel lobby and trash the adjacent Starbucks.

...The biggest applause lines invariably involved Bush. Kerry rarely got mentioned. He's a presumption but not an preoccupation. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton dropped his name once, and got polite applause, but zero whoops and hollers. She got a louder response when she said electronic voting machines should include a paper trail.

Thursday, June 03, 2004

Critiquing Amnesty International

I realize I'm of two minds about international human rights organizations. I cite them when it's useful, but often as not, I find something to criticize about their reporting.

Take the latest AI report on Guatemala. Right there in the second paragraph, they write:

It was widely believed that a major contributory factor in the upsurge in political violence and repression that characterized President Alfonso Portillo's administration (2000-2003) was the control exercised by General Efraín Ríos Montt behind the scenes.
In Spanish they translate that as "la opinión generalizada."

Since when do such amorphous ideas, stated in the passive voice, pass as legitimate human rights analysis? They might even be right about Rios Montt, but they've got to find a better way to discuss these ideas. After all, it's also "widely believed" in many parts of the world that 9/11 was a CIA plot. So what?

As far as I'm concerned, this kind of reporting doesn't pass basic social-science muster....

Grade: C-

CAFTA "on a midnight train to nowhere"

The Caltrade Report has an article today saying there won't be vote on CAFTA before the November elections, which is news to no one. It does, however, provide a succint overview of forces for and against:

In a statement following the May 27 signing of the trade pact, Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) - ranking Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee, the ranking Democrat on the House Ways and Means Trade Subcommittee, Rep. Sander Levin (D-MI); and Trade Subcommittee member Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-CA) questioned the Administration's commitment to trade with Central America.

"With the CAFTA agreement to be signed tomorrow, the Bush Administration shows it is not serious about increasing trade with Central America. If it were serious, it would have reached out to Congress - to Democrats and Republicans - and put together a bipartisan agreement. Instead, the Bush Administration lost a major opportunity," the legislators' joint statement said.

The congressional Democrats urged the US trade representative to modify CAFTA provisions relating to labor standards and to access to low-cost generic medicines. They warned that the agreement, as currently constructed, is unlikely to be approved.

"Thanks to the Bush Administration, the CAFTA is on a midnight train to nowhere - in an election year or any year," the legislators said.
Okay, so these guys are not exactly the most important members of Congress, but their rhetoric makes for nice blog copy....

Kerry and CAFTA

From a June 1 Wall Street Journal story comes these comments, which should give pause to those who think Kerry might actually follow through with his campaign rhetoric on CAFTA, should he get elected:

...many Democrats want much stronger rules that would allow countries to sanction one another if they fall short on mutually agreed-upon labor and environment rules. Mr. Kerry blasted the current agreement, saying in a statement that he would renegotiate it to include "adequate and fully enforceable protections for labor rights and environmental protections."

Legal and trade experts said Mr. Kerry's pledge would open a can of worms. Trade rules enforceable in Central America also would apply in the U.S., laying the legal groundwork for possible international challenges to lax U.S. protections for migrant workers -- including lack of enforcement of minimum-wage laws and lack of standard benefits given to other U.S. workers, such as Social Security -- or the "right to work" laws in more than a dozen states that protect the right of workers not to join a union.

"Kerry will learn to his regret that teeth that bite south can also bite north," said Gary Hufbauer, a trade expert at the Institute for International Economics.

It also would be unprecedented for a newly elected president to turn his back on a major trade deal negotiated by his predecessor, especially when it involves a region as sensitive to the U.S. as Central America. "It would be such a diplomatic slap to those countries that it would be remembered for years to come," Mr. Hufbauer said.
So, Central America is still a "sensitive" region for the U.S.?

A kinder, gentler protest?

And now from the Wall Street Journal, a report on a new trend in protests in the U.S.?

Antiglobal Protesters Try New Tactics: Tea and Pudding
As Georgia Girds for G-8, Groups Show Gentler Side; Anarchists Fixing Homes?

June 2, 2004; Page A1

SEA ISLAND, Ga. -- Ever since President Bush picked this resort for the summit of the Group of Eight leading nations next week, authorities here have been on the lookout for a swarm of unruly protesters. So when Carol Bass showed up in her floral skirt and silver peace-symbol pendant at a town-hall meeting in April, local police moved in quickly and refused to let her and fellow activists hand out their leaflets.

As it turned out, Ms. Bass's flier was an invitation to a "Meet the Protesters" potluck supper in a nearby church fellowship hall, and the word got out anyway. At the gathering the next night, after spaghetti, sweet tea and banana pudding, organizers coaxed County Commissioner Cap Fendig to play homemade trivia games. (Sample question: How many windows were broken during the 2002 G-8 meeting in Canada? Answer: zero.)

Antiglobalization protesters brought violent disruptions to the World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle in 1999 and the G-8 summits in Genoa, Italy, in 2001 and in Evian, France, last year. But the protesters making the trek to Brunswick, Ga., the industrial port town (population 16,000) nearest the secluded resort island, so far promise to be distinctly milder.

The Southeast Anarchist Network is urging members to "show anarchy in action" by repairing local homes. Another group, Citizens G-8 Hospitality Committee, issued a "call for no violence and no property destruction" at the summit. Food Not Bombs, a group espousing "nonviolent social change," plans to distribute vegetarian meals.

"Do I look like I'm going to throw rocks?" asked Susan Hunt, a petite, bespectacled organizer of a meeting of left-leaning academics who call themselves The Other Economic Summit, or TOES.

Authorities are still ready for more serious protest next week, mindful that it takes just a few violent protesters or overzealous policemen to unleash chaos at such a high-security event. But early signs are that the armies of militant antiglobalists that toured from one international confab to another, starting in the late 1990s, may be simmering down in the U.S....

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Photo as metaphor for Bush policies

ARENA Government # 4

Saca bows to the Salvadoran flag, an act of protocol he almost forgot, reports La Prensa Gráfica, which also noted Hermano Tobi's remark that "governing authorities are put in their posts by God."

I won't comment on the pomp and circumstance of yesterday's inauguration of Tony Saca, the beginning of what will end up being a 20-year reign (1989-2009) of the ARENA party in the executive branch. Instead, a few random points of interest:

The latest IUDOP poll notes that outgoing president Francisco Flores leaves office with the highest popularity rating ever of any past ARENA president, even higher than the "peace" president, Alfredo Cristiani. In part, he's riding the coat tails of Saca, around whom there are great expectations.

But when asked what the biggest accomplishment of the Flores presidency had been, roads and highways were noted by about half those polled, while just under 20% mentioned the fight against crime as his best achievement. What's left to do? A slew of issues related to unemployment and the economy. I wonder if all those new roads have anything to do with the tripling of the public debt in recent years?

On that score, it's interesting to note that the new Economy Minister, Yolanda Mayora, gave an interview to El Diario de Hoy yesterday which demonstrates that the new government is already hedging its bets on CAFTA and free trade agreements. "The FTA [Free Trade Agreement] is not the strategy" reads the headline of the interview, in which she notes that free trade is fundamental, and she's optimistic about it's approval, but that it's only one part of a larger strategy.

The FMLN, of course, held it's own meeting in the Civic Plaza downtown, and only a very few of their ranks attended the official ceremonies (a representative from the San Salvador municipality, outgoing TSE magistrate Julio Hernandez, the mayor of Nejapa). La Prensa Gráfica, for one, acknowledges that there is a change of discourse in the FMLN from one of relentless war to concertación (consensus-building). The FMLN published full-page ads yesterday of its "Proposal for National Concertación," hoping to move towards a debate on the issues rather than all-out struggle. You can see that in various interviews with FMLN leaders, and one can only hope that this is a good omen.

But while obeying the, the wishes, of the FMLN leadership, for the first time the reformist wing of the party bowed out of the official meeting, and instead joined in with various social movements that marched to protest government policies. Asked if this might represent the beginning of a structured internal opposition, Hugo Martínez replied, "you might get that impression."

Finally, in the past few days, the papers have been rife with interviews of new cabinet ministers. I have to comment on the new 30-year-old head of CONCULTURA, the chronically underfunded state agency that supports the arts. Federico Hernandez, who was just elected last year as an ARENA deputy, will take over this post. He admits that he can't remember the last time he went to an art exhibit, likes to sing karaoke (he says no one's told him he has a bad voice), and enjoys ranchera music more than any other genre. Sounds like the perfect man for the job!

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